University High in Morgantown has one of the best athletes in the state.
She might be 5 feet tall. She might weigh but 90 pounds.
But this small package is more than just a good thing.
“Something like this the state has never seen before,” said UHS athletic director Jeff Bailey. “Incredible.”
Yet, to some degree, Amelia “Millie” Paladino is invisible. That’s because Paladino is a runner. That’s because Paladino is in a state absorbed in football and basketball.
But when the state track meet visits Charleston next weekend, you might want to get off your keisters and check out the dynamo.
“Little thing, big motor,” said University track coach Ed Frohnapfel.
Check that. She has a very big motor. The Mountain State has had some very good distance runners over the years, including St. Mary’s Maggie Drazba last year. In sum, her times were incredible.
But the UHS Hawk might soar higher than all.
I’ll seize your attention with this: Paladino entered the nationally prestigious Penn Relays this year. And she won the high school mile in 4:45.34, the fourth-fastest winning time in the event’s history.
“She could have run several seconds better in better conditions,” Frohnapfel said.
Are you with me now?
Paladino ran a 4:56.57 mile and finished fourth in the Penn Relays as a junior. And here’s a little more background: She won the Class AAA girls state cross country races both as a junior and senior. (She was fourth as a freshman and third as a sophomore.) In the state track meet, she won the 1,600 both as a sophomore and junior and the 3,200 as a junior.
If I’m losing you a bit, well, there’s this: She’s signed with WVU, which is a terrific coup for the school. (More on that in a bit.)
Paladino’s resume is simply special. She’s had an All-America performance in the Foot Locker cross country nationals last December. She was a runner-up in the indoor mile at the New Balance Nationals in March.
For you hard-core trackees, check her national rankings times. In this outdoor season, she is No. 2 in the mile, No. 3 in the 1,600 and No. 5 in the 3,200 on one list. Another list had her 3,200 time of 10:00.42 as No. 3.
Actually, her time in the mile (4:45.34) is faster than her time in the 1,600 (4:47.29) even though the mile is slightly longer.
The juiciest nugget? Paladino’s 10:00.42 in the Gazette Relays’ 3,200 race would have beaten every girls’ 4x800 relay team except the Class AAA winner. Also, a week later, Winfield High broke the Mountain State Athletic Conference meet record in the 4x800 by running 10:02.99, more than 2.5 seconds slower that Paladino ran it by herself.
“It’s pretty special when you can do that,” Frohnapfel said.
Don’t expect Paladino to run that 10:00.42 again. The conditions were perfect with temperatures in the 50s with no humidity. Then again, no one was pushing her.
“She’s used to running by herself,” Frohnapfel said. “We yell out her splits. She’s comfortable doing that.”
In the upcoming state meet, Paladino might try to make a distance sweep. She’ll surely run the 1,600, 3,200 and anchor the 4x800 relay team. Frohnapfel said, though, she might also go for the 800.
Why the heck not? All Paladino has done since starting her career is participate in gymnastics, T-ball, horseback riding, soccer and basketball, in addition to her running. Apparently, athletics are in the genes. Her twin brother Andy is going on to run at Syracuse for coach Chris Fox, a former West Virginia high school standout. Also, mother Janet ran a 2:59 at the Boston Marathon.
“Millie is confident,” Frohnapfel said. “This year she’s confident that whoever she lines up with she can beat. This year it’s ‘OK, let’s go.’ ”
Fortunately for Mountaineer fans, Paladino won’t be leaving the state after high school.
“She had offers from Tennessee, Wisconsin and Syracuse,” Frohnapfel said. “Truthfully, I thought she’d leave the state. But she has a good support system here and probably knows most of the girls on the [WVU] team.”
Paladino is certainly one to watch.
She’s been incredible. She’s been somewhat invisible.
And next week, she could be invincible.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.